Top ten July 2019

It’s been a while. It has. Here’s a little stab at starting this whole thing up again.

1. Istanbul - I love this city like a Turk hates his family and loves cats. The chaos, the sea, the flashpoint coming together of every emotion and continents in one heaving pile of concrete and tea.

2. Raki - I hate anise seed flavour more than just about anything, except when its in this delightful, introspective liquor of the Eastern mediterranean. It always leaves my feet swollen, but its beautiful, mellow, long and drawn like a sunset over the Bosphorus or the death of my career

2. Mountains - I moved my family to Slovenia just so we could be near them and its better than any screen or booze you could come up with

3. Alvaro Enrigue - “Sudden Death” is nothing short of phenomenal and his only other book in English is a collection of short stories I would have given my left ball to be able to write.

4. Interactive comedy - I have no idea what this is, and even less of an idea of what it will be, but hang on tight, its coming somehow.

5. AI as a design tool - We’re still in the awkward 8th grade phase of AI as a tool, much like using coding programs to create “art” resulted in lots of digital spirographs (If you don’t know what this is, its fine, I’m not even going to explain it because it date me way too much) but I think there’s the potential with tools like Runway to let us do something interesting without the math PhD as a prerequisite.

6. The floundering of mixed reality - Talk about awkward bets, mixed reality is still hanging on but I’m still hopeful even in its race to the bottom

7. The Anthropocene Reviewed - Utterly gorgeous writing, with a flair for disappointment in humanity and pragmatism that only someone from Cleveland could appreciate. I would say its beautiful, but this proves how shit of a writer I am compared to John Green.

8. Two Minutes to Late Night - the world's only heavy metal-themed talk show. Yet another thing I have fantasises while twisting and turning in bed of having not done.

9. Peanut butter

10. Craig Mod - His voice can make climate change seem like its seriously okay and he makes me want to make out with everything he puts out on the internet

Writing that doesn’t end

When I initially wrote The Gates of Vienna, the book that is supported by this Bastion software and was the reason I built it, I was interested in how you design the reading of books in today’s day and age. It didn’t end there though, because I was equally interested in how you design the writing. That was when I believed things shouldn’t necessarily end, or was at a post-modern phase of my life or something.

I have a bit of an Impostor’s Syndrome when it comes to being an author. Even saying an author is a copout because it’s not saying necessarily I’m a writer. Words! They’re so powerful and you can do so much with them. Imagine that. But writing is what I did a lot of for this thing and what I should be doing more of basically all the time but don’t.

Writing for Bastion is sometimes difficult. Writing for anything really is a lot of times difficult. The advantage of writing the Gates of Vienna as an author is that I could add in stuff whenever. This, believe it or not dear reader, was on purpose. But, this means it’s hard to finish things, or know when to finish. Because you don’t really have to. Writing characters, like the one new Point of View that I had been working on, is a bit all over the place. You write this, you write that, you squeeze in this hunk and then that. This is how you write and this is how Bastion works really.

It’s about not making neat little packages with the hero rescuing the princess at the end, it’s about making worlds. You create that world and it goes on to create more and more of itself. You create a place where your characters live and places that they see, ride horses across and eat sandwiches at. They’re things to explore and things that end can’t be endlessly explored, and the world keeps on expanding ad infinitum which I was convinced the way writing should go. You can read in more than one way, and things can be added at any time. It’s alive, a literary Frankenstein so get your pitchforks ready but a lot of this has changed now. Writing that doesn’t end also just sort of dissipates. It fizzles out slowly.

This is the story of product, this one and just about any other. You start with vigour and your veins filled with piss and vinegar and you’re going to change the world, or maybe a tiny part of it if you’re lucky. And then after a couple of years, you’re just grinding it out. Writing is hard, and making digital software products is hard. It’s even harder when they just don’t end, just keep on growing and changing.

So what have we (meaning I) learned from trying to write and build a novel that wouldn’t or didn’t have to end and a digital book that could change indefinitely forever? That endings are good and something we always aim to avoid in this day and age and in this digital world that we now all live in. We avoid endings because it means the hope is over. But maybe we should look at it another way. Ends are natural and the reason we’re miserable is because we’re fighting what is natural, letting things end.

The Dentist Fallacy

The dentist is usually disappointed and nobody is smiling

The dentist is usually disappointed and nobody is smiling

Most people hate going to the dentist. Most assume that the reason is pain. The dentist digs, prods and pokes, finding lots of things wrong in your teeth. There is generally a decent chance because you don’t spend every waking moment brushing your teeth and avoiding sweets that the dentist will need to do a lot of painful things in a very-sensitive-to-pain part of your body to fix them. Then you usually have to give them a lot of money.

People hate going to the dentist, not because of the pain but because they don’t like feeling bad. The dentist looks at teeth all day. Because the world of teeth surrounds them, they have high expectations. They expect people to achieve the highest standards in teeth. Fact is nobody flosses and many don’t brush their teeth in circular fashion spending a minimum of 15 seconds per tooth. What then happens is that when you go to the dentist with your imperfect teeth, the dentist is disappointed, and they make it known to you.

You then feel bad because you were less than perfect in what they remind you to be a very easily avoidable way. All you have to do is this simple set of things each day, and then you’ll have the perfect teeth which I expect, they say, and then you won’t have to come in here and disappoint me. You won’t have perfect teeth because most of the time in the grand scheme of your day it isn’t as important to you as it is to the dentist.

Designers, especially the digital sort, are dentists. We poke and prod through people’s daily lives, inserting technology, products and services that are supposed to help but are generally painful. We don’t care because we’re dentists. We can’t stand that someone doesn’t see how important what we've made is to their lives and how much better they will be off. Instead, they keep on using Outlook and that five-year-old phone. The machine keeps on alerting your mom that she’s not doing it right and then she gives up because she’s not a dentist.

Designers need to be more like teachers, not dentists. We need to explain whats going on and why it is crucial. We need to design interfaces, machines and systems that explain themselves. When your mom uses a thing that we design it should be gentle and slow like your third-grade teacher, you know the one that got you excited about drawing planets. The thing you design should not make them feel worse for using or caring about it. We need to be okay with that just like the third-grade teacher who was okay with you not being into whales. Stop the alerts, stop the berating and push them along gently knowing that they might not do what you think is essential, and that's okay.